What are dope-fiends to do when they get too old to hustle and the cops either out of laziness or some misplaced empathy won’t even bust them anymore and the city streets are it as far as a place to call home? For the brutal reality is that the city’s homeless shelters are too hardcore for them as they’ve essentially become senior citizens, whether they want to admit it or not, and the world as they know it has passed them by and left them here literally laying at my doorstep.
Outside in the alleys that bisect the streets and thoroughfares of my neighborhood, there are more than a few of these ancient relics who every year become more and more like part of the environment instead of living breathing human beings. And obliviously everyday I pass by them as they sit on that same door stoop or posted up in their usual haunt under the freeway asking for spare change. Yet more and more with a sense of increasing turpitude I’m starting to not really see them anymore and more to the point, I don’t think anyone else really does either!
As some of these lost souls are so absolutely ambiguous that I’ve never said a word to them and I know for a fact that they’ve never uttered a syllable in my direction, not even as they hold out that tattered paper cup in a haphazard silent attempt at panhandling. Yet every morning as I go to work or wander aimlessly down to the coffeehouse on my days off they’re there and just as regularly when my day is done and I’m coming home they’re still there. Crouching in that same exact spot like they’ve never moved and even when I venture out late at night I’ll see them all curled up amongst some dirty torn blankets asleep as waves of discarded papers and trash flows over and around their prone bodies.
For a while now I’ve seen this man and woman who sit next to each other on matching milk crates under the freeway and there is really no discernable way to tell them apart. And as they huddle together they drink from the same bottle, argue over seemingly insignificant issues, and then inevitably end up in a shouting match all the while asking for money as if they were one entity. Over the years I’ve watched them grow increasingly shabbier as their clothes wear away and tear to shreds, while their untamed heads of hair turn to solid mats and all that is sometimes visible are the yellowed whites of their eyes peeking out from beneath layers of dirt and grime over outstretched hands. And just this morning the streets were reverting back to smelling like human waste again and I’m not too sure if its because of everyone defecating wherever they want or if it’s just that time of the year when the sewers are about to backup and explode. But here sitting in the midst of this most vile smell were these two in ignorant bliss, wasted and nodding away in their dank trash-covered corner as the cars rushed by in the street and the few pedestrians walking by were dismayed to have to be near them.
Sometimes it is just so dirty and covered in waste out there: Where the city claims to have swept; where the construction workers throw their garbage; where the street people have to use it as a toilet; where the rats breed; where I am subjected to walking through it all in amazement!
Yet even in this cursed bit of land somebody, obviously in an act of kindness, has given the artist a small transistor radio that he keeps in front of him when he sits on the pavement and drinks malt liquor. Drawing his sketches with chalks and whatever that brown liquid is that he’s got and even though there’s the noise of the city and the traffic competing with his radio, you can still hear it as he’s got it turned all the way up and it’s on some pop station that’s half screaming ads and the other half’s some music wedged in between the wailing of the DJ. And when it’s raining or he’s looking especially ragged I usually break down and give him a dollar. Though just recently I can’t help but notice that he too is starting to blend in with the concrete and with the passing of time will I cease to perceive him anymore as we all become so comfortable with our roles in this community?
Funny, but at the same time my Honda is starting to hint that it too wants to go back to the elements. I can tell this because not only have the brakes started to give out but whenever I move it there’s these little groans and incessant thudding as it seems to want to become an inanimate fixture like the comatose people who sleep next to it in the doorways along the edges of the alley. And like the artist or that couple under the freeway, will my car soon become another piece in this same gray dirty grime-infested backdrop of invisibility? And if I left it in its favorite parking place could I assume that soon it too would be nothing but another indiscernible element in this whole downtrodden community? Like those abandoned Navy ships that they sink so that they’ll form reefs on the floor of the ocean for the marine life, will my car end up becoming an immobile natural habitat for the local inhabitants?
Seems a fittingly generous way to end its life, but not if my upstairs neighbor Stephan has anything to do with it. Because lately he’s had his eye on the Honda, though why I’ll never know, as in order to own and operate a vehicle in California you have to register it. And you can’t do that without insuring it like you used to be able to do. And this insurance deal and those registration fees and the smog inspection and the inevitable parking tickets and the consequential towing and storage fees and then you got the repairs from driving and then the repairs from vandalism. Like the passenger’s window being smashed out so that some speed freak can rip out the piece-of-shit cassette player, though last time this happened to me they only took the knobs off of the stereo and left the little ziplock bag that their dope came in empty laying on the seat.
So I guess what I am saying here is that even for a little junker Honda there’s so much that one has to deal with and do I really bequeath my battered Civic to Stephan knowing that he’s doing good but that this car and all the external pressures that it comes with may just send him over the edge at any moment in time? Or should I just leave all the windows wide open and keys in the ignition and park it right in the midst of dope fiend central next to Jack’s Liquors on Stillman Alley and let nature take its course?
Though on a more selfish note, maybe with the sacrificing of my Honda I will hopefully be able to overcome this indecisive visual distraction that I am apparently going through. And I say hopefully because I have never before been so engrossed as to not see someone, anyone, standing on the street corner in misery or even gregariously happy. I have never gone through life oblivious to others even when I was so stoned that I couldn’t feel myself. And this new found habit of not seeing actual humans as they deteriorate in front of me has me a little perturbed at the moment as it could get worse and then what? Buildings will start disappearing from my sight?